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Changing Hats

In the fast paced world of retail and commercial construction project management results are measured by deadlines and budgets. At the end of the day no one wants to hear about how hard you worked, what you did or how many obstacles were thrown at you…did you or did you not achieve the desired result on time? That is what counts. If, for example, a fashion retail store has its grand opening scheduled for the day after Thanksgiving, no amount of hard work will give you a pass for not getting the job done until Saturday. I have spent years with terms such as pro-activity, get in front of it, drop dead date. It is all very black and white. Either the artwork was installed on time or it wasn’t. The lighting fixtures either came in on budget or they didn’t.

And so it is these past few years I have been struggling to transition from part to full-time professional genealogist. I do understand that there are no guarantees that a land sale will exist for a certain individual, and, if it does exist there is no guarantee that it will be found in a certain repository, or even sometimes at all. So, I understand the concept of charging an hourly rate for a search that bears no fruit. Or, that is to say, I get the concept. But…I am programmed to deliver results at the end of each day. So if that day yields no results, then I spend time trying to figure out what to do to produce results that I feel comfortable charging for. I have tried giving myself pep talks and comparing these task to other tasks that involve paid work for no results. But still I am resistant. This has been the main challenge for me in changing careers.

On the flip side, I have used my former project management and data crunching hats to create some excellent time-saving tools. I just added time line and log modules to my custom genealogy database. The time line module lets me quickly enter data that may or may not apply in the early stages of the project to yield a report to take with me into the field. It is also helpful to spot anomalies. As more work is done, only the relevant items need be put into more formal language. The log helps me track my back and forth contacts with clients, prospective clients and volunteer projects so that I can stay on top of who has been waiting too long for an answer, research proposal, status update, project report.

Right now I am hot on the trail of someone’s illusive Huguenot ancestor and thus there are a few too many individuals that have been waiting too long to hear back from me. And so, I had best get cracking!


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A Different Kind of Aha Moment

Recently as I was looking into the family of Abel Peters of Dutchess County, NY I came across a strange new name… “Whereas Ahasuerus Ellsworth my present husband, by his bond dated 10 Sept 1794 did bind himself and his heirs to my son Abel Peters now dcd….My last will: Sarah Ellsworth of Town of Washington, County of Dutchess….” I had never heard this name before, and at first thought it to be a bad transcription. However, an ancestry search using only the given name and New York as location did turn up others. And so of course I became curious…how would you pronounce it? Is there a shorter version?

I goggled the name and learned that it was a Biblical name for a Persian king. The Bible dictionary and concordance gives the following synopsis from the Old Testament Book of Esther:

In the Bible Ahasuerus is said to have ruled over 127 provinces “from India to Ethiopia” (Est 1:1-2).

In the third year of his reign he gave a sumptuous banquet for the heads of his provinces and court officials and ordered his wife, the beautiful Queen Vashti, to present herself at the banquet. Upon her refusal to obey his order, he dismissed her as his wife (Est 1:3-8, 10-19), and chose Esther, a Jewess, to replace her (Est 2:1-4, 17). At the instigation of his chief minister Haman, a decree was issued for the annihilation of all the Jews living in the empire (Est 3:1-15). This scheme was thwarted by Esther and her cousin Mordecai. Haman was hanged and a new decree was issued by Ahasuerus allowing the Jews the right to kill their enemies (Est 8:3-14, 9:5-10, 13-14).

One can just picture the intrigue going on behind the scenes as this plot was hatched and thwarted. Though interesting, the story sheds little light on why in the world would someone name their son Ahasuerus? Pronunciation options varied widely depending on the answering web site. Perhaps there is no one left today who owns this name and can tell us for sure. And, I am left still wondering what the nickname would be…would the full name be used, or did his friends just call him Aha?

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The statement “It’s always in the last place you look” has long amused me. If you are looking for your car keys in your own house, for example, of course you know when you find them and therefore stop looking—how could it be otherwise? The same is not true of genealogy. Still, even the experienced genealogist often stops looking as soon as a good match is found. The proper match could be the first or the last one you find, but you will not know until you have located and evaluated them all.

Imagine you are seeking the father of Isaac Jones, born in New York ca 1837, and you know that his parents are born in Connecticut. A preliminary search turns up a Zebulon Jones, born ca 1805, who migrates to New York. Your Isaac has a son Zebulon Thorne Jones—bingo! That was easy. What if you continued to look and found another Zebulon Jones, born ca 1797, married Anne Thorne, and migrated to New York? That certainly complicates matters doesn’t it?

The next step is to research all the candidates and use logic to rule out the less likely ones…those born too early or too late.  Examine the remaining candidates more closely.  Certainly if Zebulon Thorne Jones names a daughter Anne Thorne Jones and other of Zebulon the elder’s offspring can be found in the cemeteries or vital records in close proximity to Isaac Jones it helps cement the case. However, if no such evidence is found it does not disprove the relationship. It is just this tentative nature of the research process that demands a very careful analysis of all the prospects before forming a conclusion. Find them all, research them all, describe them all—and only then make your choice.
[These names are hypothetical for illustration only.]

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